July 3, 2011

LGBT Pride Month Interview

This interview comes a bit late for LGBT Pride Month. My interviewee is a good friend and former president of the Queer Student Union at the University of Virginia. I have always been impressed with his community involvement and ability to articulate community issues, regardless of the community. It is an honor to be able to share our interview on the Angry Asian Buddhist blog.

Who are you?

My name is Kevin Wu, and I am a gay Asian American. All of the below views belong to only me. As convenient as it would be to speak for the entire LGBT Asian American community, I don’t.

What do you do?

I am an aspiring filmmaker living in Los Angeles. By day, I make a living as a business consultant in healthcare.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Fairfax, Virginia and grew up around northern Virginia, also known affectionately as “noVA.”

How are you currently involved in the LGBT community?

I am a serial heartbreaker. Just kidding. I am not involved in any official capacity though I occasionally participate in events organized by LGBT-oriented groups such as the SoCal Social Club and Guys Like Us.

How did you first get involved in the LGBT community?

I suppose my involvement has been ongoing ever since I stood in front of the mirror and uttered to myself, “I’m gay.” I first became very actively involved in the community during my undergrad career at the University of Virginia (UVa) after attending a Queer Student Union (QSU) garden party. As cliched as it might sound, being surrounded by others like myself was intensely liberating, and I would eventually meet my best friends through the group. It was with this in mind that I decided to remain involved in the group’s leadership and strove to make the same impact on incoming gay students that I felt when I started my first year.

Why is it important to celebrate LGBT Pride Month?

It’s important to remember. So much of our community never even learned about the history of the LGBT rights movement, much less remember it. As important as it is to celebrate the tidal shift in attitudes toward the LGBT community, we too easily forget the state of affairs just ten or twenty years ago. Even I forget. Having been out for as long as I’ve been and living in liberal Los Angeles, I sometimes forget about the experience of going to school in central Virginia and the sheer terror some students faced (mine included) at showing up to a QSU meeting. So many LGBT people are resigned to living in shame at their identities, and every little bit anyone can do to rectify that, from health education to ostentatious parades, is important.

What’s one misconception or stereotype about LGBT issues that you really dislike?

This is an interesting question. The most egregious stereotypes are harbored by the openly bigoted, so to give them enough credit to “dislike” their views is often a waste of emotional energy. A more appropriate answer would probably involve misconceptions by well-intentioned supporters.

I think many non-LGBT people adopt a mentality that being accepting and not homophobic is enough, that this fight is not theirs to fight. We are a permanent minority. The official percentage is always changing, but the LGBT community will always comprise only a small portion of the general population. It’s not as if a wave of immigration will tip the scales (wouldn’t that be interesting?). For that reason, we rely more than any other group on the support of those outside our community. This needs to be everyone’s fight.

What’s one misconception or stereotype about LGBT Asian Americans that you really dislike?

Probably that we’re all waifs. I’m no expert on issues of sexual racism within the LGBT (specifically gay male) community and much has already been written on the subject, so I won’t go into more detail. If, after meeting me, one of your first questions is about my racial preferences in dating, I won’t expect an intelligent conversation. (What I dislike is the assumption that there is an answer at all.)

Did you grow up around Buddhism in your family or community?

Both my parents are Buddhist. I was never required to learn their customs, but they would occasionally take me to temple, where I loved the food served. Despite the lack of guidance, they instilled in my sisters and me a strong sense of spirituality.

What’s one thing you think the American Buddhist community could do to promote LGBT issues?

Show support. Take a stance. Donate, make a public statement, create an outreach program—I don’t have a preference because anything is better than silence. I don’t need angry marches (once upon a time I did) because simply taking a stance without being required to can take tremendous courage. Support affects more than just the oppressed; it affects those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to think about these issues or how their beliefs affect their behaviors.

Last note—I realize that I am still not doing the best job at hosting the voices of Asian American women. Stay tuned, though…

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for this interview Arun and Kevin. It is very good to realize that the Buddha came to alleviate suffering and he made no distinction on sexual orientation. Shouldn't every month be LGBT Pride Month as we reflect on truly becoming awake from the delusions this world holds based on tags and names while overlooking the real person? May the Buddha bless you both.

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  2. Arun and Kevin,
    Thank you for this interview. Although I was born and raised in the US, I have ordained, study, and currently live in East Asia (South Korea). I've found myself struggling to combat the stereotypes of LGBTQ people that exist within the monastic community, but I share Kevin's attitude that "Support affects more than just the oppressed." The monastic community, which in East Asia still holds a leadership position in the Buddhist community, needs to recognize and change our own biases and stereotypes in order to truly be able to serve and help our communities. I hope that more monastics will come out themselves in open support of all our brothers and sisters in the greater Buddhist sangha, not just in the US but in the global Buddhist community.

    And again, thanks to Arun for keeping this blog up and going.

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